Underwater Robotics in STEM Education

With the advances in submersible ROV and AUV technologies, and increasing applications in marine science, underwater archaeology, marine geology, and industrial use, underwater robotics is a very relevant addition to a STEM curriculum. In this post we will discuss the why and how to develop an underwater robotics program at your school.

Student made PVC ROVs
Student made PVC ROVs

According to the USGS Water Science School (2019), “About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water.” Yet the NOAA National Ocean Service (2021) states that “More than eighty percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored.”

In addition to the scientific value of underwater exploration, The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates the value of the ocean economy at $2.5 Trillion.

Ocean Economy Graph
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on UNCTADStat and World Travel and Tourism Council data (2020).

According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”

Blue Economy Graphic
Source: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2017/06/06/blue-economy

With the importance of earth’s water for the future of the planet and the integral role of ROV and AUV technologies, introducing students to underwater robotics is critical to inspire and develop the needed skills and knowledge for further study and careers in Subsea STEM. The opportunities for Innovation with global impact are endless.

The underwater robotics opportunities go beyond the expansive amounts of unexplored deep sea. My home State of Maine has approximately 6000 lakes and ponds, and approximately 5000 rivers and streams. Maine also has approximately 3500 miles of tidal coastline. Most schools will have local opportunities for students to explore.

Having underwater robotics capabilities at your school creates outdoor experiential learning and practical hands-on experience for students. Developing an underwater robotics curriculum provides collaborative opportunities with:

  • Local Marinas
  • Water Districts
  • Environmental Organizations
  • Seafood Farming and Aquaculture
  • State and Local Fish and Wildlife Departments
  • Higher Education
  • US Navy
ROV Water Pipe Inspection
ROV water pipe inspection for local water district performed by high school students

Underwater robotics can be easily integrated into your school STEM curriculum. PVC ROV kits are available at reasonable costs, and there are grants available for schools for marine science, STEM, and robotics. There are also underwater robotics competitions. Below are resources to help get a program started.

Offering an underwater robotics course will help inspire students to pursue in-demand Marine Science, Engineering, and other STEM majors and careers.

The premier ocean research and underwater robotics organization is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. WHOI is a tremendous resource for ocean research, exploration, and education. WHOI offers K-12 resources on their website, as well as camps for students, and professional development resources for teachers.

The author updating a REMUS at WHOI
The author updating a REMUS at WHOI

Submersible Types and Descriptions:



Classroom Resources and Lesson Plans:


ROV AUV News sources:




ROV Competition Resources:


ROV and ROV kit suppliers:


MATE Pufferfish ROV Kit
MATE Pufferfish ROV Kit. Add an inexpensive waterproof action camera and you can create underwater videos.

https://pvcrov.wixsite.com/pvcrov Basic kits without circuit board soldering. The PVC ROVs in the first photo were made from these kits.

https://bluerobotics.com I highly recommend this ROV. It is an excellent value with amazing capabilities.

https://formufit.com/collections/1-2-in-size-pvc Colorful PVC pipe and fittings. The Art component in STEAM.

https://shop.robonation.org/collections/seaglide SeaGlide is a miniature underwater glider designed to move by changing its buoyancy, taking in or expelling water.

SeaMATE Pufferfish Kit

Marine Science and Robotics Grant resources:






https://www.maine.gov/doe/rrev (Available to Maine Schools for developing innovative pilots and outdoor programs)


NOAA. How much of the ocean have we explored? https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html 02/26/21

USGS. How Much Water is There on Earth? https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth 11/13/2019

UNCTAD. Ocean economy offers a $2.5 trillion export opportunity: UNCTAD report https://unctad.org/news/ocean-economy-offers-25-trillion-export-opportunity-unctad-report 10/26/2021

The World Bank. What is the Blue Economy? https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2017/06/06/blue-economy 6/6/2017

Model Rocketry in STEM Education

Saturn V stage 3 engine
Saturn V Stage 3 Engine Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Photo by Paul Haberstroh

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow approximately 11% from 2020-2030 with a median annual wage of almost $100,000. Getting and keeping students interested in STEM to learn the skills for these real world opportunities is critical.

Teaching STEM through an experiential, hands on activity such as model rocketry will inspire an interest to learn, and help students envision a possible STEM career path. Taking Newton’s laws of motion from a concept to a fun, hands on, practical activity is clearly a better pedagogical model. Students become eager to learn tangents when they want to know how high their rocket went!

NASA Educators Guide to Rockets
NASA Educators Guide to Rockets

NASA created an excellent reference for educators, Rockets: Educator’s Guide with Activities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These are free digital copies in the public domain for reproduction. At the time of this writing, NASA has 30 job listings for $100k+ positions. SpaceX has numerous job listings on their website. Rocket Scientists are clearly in demand.

An exciting new company based in my home State of Maine, bluShift Aerospace, is pioneering non-toxic, carbon-neutral, bio-derived rocket fuels. They have successfully launched the first commercial rocket using this type of fuel. They also have career opportunities and internships available.

MAX IQ Space has developed Space STEM programs and kits available to make space research accessible and economical for schools and students. MaxIQ Space has developed a partnership with bluShift Aerospace, and launch options can be found here.

The demand for low cost, environmentally responsible rocket launches will continue to increase as more telecommunications transition to a satellite infrastructure. Career opportunities will increase accordingly. Verizon is partnering with Project Kuiper, Amazon’s low Earth orbit satellite network. Starlink currently has extensive availability in under-served areas in the United States, and is increasing capacity every year.

Developing a model rocketry curriculum at your school is not very expensive. Solid fuel model rockets are relatively inexpensive for the value and effectiveness gained. Solid fuel model rockets are the most realistic and engaging for students in Middle School and older.

Model rocket launch pads
Model rocket launch pads

Estes, the leader in solid fuel model rocketry since 1958, is thoroughly committed to education, and provides extensive resources for educators including lesson plans, help with finding and writing grants, participating in national competitions, and discounts on products. Estes offers complete educator bulk rocket packs and complete classroom kits at very reasonable costs. They have something for all age and experience levels, and class time considerations. Some rocket kits can be assembled in one class, or can be made into an entire trimester long, project based, in depth design challenge utilizing digital fabrication software and tools like 3D Printing and laser cutting. Model rocketry creates a fabulous opportunity to teach students 3D CAD software like Fusion 360, and graphic software like Adobe Illustrator.

3D Printed Rocket Nose Cone
3D Printed Rocket Nose Cone
Students using a laser cutter to make their model rocket fins.

The National Association of Rocketry (NAR) is the largest and oldest model rocketry organization in the U.S, and is an excellent resource for teachers and students. I highly recommend joining this organization. NAR provides educational resources including a certification program for teachers. NAR provides extensive safety guidelines and codes and even provides liability insurance for members. They have a print publication, Sport Rocketry, that is published 6 times per year.

We have liftoff!

I recommend teachers always include the “A” for Art into STEM, making it STEAM. There are tremendous art opportunities in model rocketry. Creating a mission patch is an important part of rocketry. Take a look at some of the graphic art from the Apollo mission patches: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/2293/apollo-mission-patches/

Student designed mission patch
Student designed mission patch

Finishing the model rockets fosters creativity and individuality, and a learning opportunity for different painting and decorating materials and methods. Always try to avoid toxic paints and adhesives in favor of non toxic, water based, environmentally friendly materials. Stickers and decals are an easy way to decorate model rockets.

Model Rocket


Lang, N.P. (2020) The Effectiveness of Model Rocketry to Teach Science and Quantitative Content to Students in a Non-Science Majors Course at the College Level: An Example from a Planetary Geology Course. Open Journal of Statistics, 10, 139-153.

Sarradet, Thomas M Jr. (2009) A STEM Based Model Rocketry Curriculum: For the Team America Rocketry Challenge. https://www.apogeerockets.com/downloads/PDFs/STEM_Model_Rocketry_Curriculum.pdf

Keith, et al. (2013) This is Rocket Science. The Physics Teacher 51, 362 (2013); https://doi.org/10.1119/1.4818377

Science Apps for iPad/iPhone

There are many excellent Science Apps for iPads and iPhones. Following is a list of Apps that I have used and recommend. Some of these are free, some are paid but are an excellent value. If you are using Apple Configurator or any device enrollment software at your school, you may be able to push these out to all devices enrolled. Most of these are rated for Age 4+, but some are 12+. Please confirm age appropriateness for your grades. Confirm iOS version requirements. There may also be versions for other platforms and operating systems.

Sources of High Quality Images for Education

All too often students will download, copy, or screenshot an image from the internet for an assignment or personal use, without thought or understanding of copyright, usage, or image quality. Teachers may also be unfamiliar about copyright and usage in an educational setting.

It is important for students and teachers to understand, recognize, and honor Copyrighted images and material. While there are “Fair Use” and “Educational” exemptions to Copyright infringement, I believe it is important to teach students how to source high quality images that are clearly designated for reuse.

With the increased use of multimedia presentations and digital storytelling in the classroom, finding sources of high quality free images clearly designated for reuse is important. A good start is selecting “Creative Commons licenses” from the usage menu in a Google Image Search. Always make sure “SafeSearch” is on.

Usage Rights Google Image Search

You may find a high resolution image of what you need with a Creative Commons license, but here are some great sources of high quality free images that are designated for reuse. Each site has clear rights information to assist in teaching good usage and citation practices.


Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page Wikimedia Commons is a repository of media created and organized by volunteer contributors. The license conditions of each image are available on the description page. There are also opportunities for aspiring photographers to contribute to the repository, and participate in the monthly photo contests. I have enjoyed contributing images to this site and participating in the monthly photo contests. There are over 82 Million media files available.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/collections/ The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. The Digital Collections are available for use with clear usage and citation instructions for each work. The Library of Congress also has extensive educational resources: https://www.loc.gov/education/


NASA: https://images.nasa.gov/ The NASA Image and Video Library contains amazing images that are generally not copyrighted. The content may be used for non-commercial educational or informational purposes. This general permission extends to personal Web pages. Be advised the actual NASA logo is protected by copyright and may not be used without permission. NASA provides a comprehensive usage guide on the site.

NOAA Images

NOAA: http://www.photolib.noaa.gov The NOAA collection includes over 32,000 images of weather, space, seas, coastlines, and a wide variety of marine species. Most NOAA photos and slides are in the public domain. There is no fee for downloading any images on the NOAA Photo Library. Educational use is encouraged so students will become mindful of the environment and act responsibly.

National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art: https://images.nga.gov NGA Images is a collection of high resolution digital images of the National Gallery of Art. On this website you can search and download from over 51,000 high quality images. Their Help section provides technical assistance and a downloadable reproduction guide.

Getty Museum

The Getty Museum: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/ The Getty Collections include Antiquities, Sculptures, Paintings, Manuscripts, Drawings and Photographs. There is an extensive collection of downloadable open content. There are also images that do require permission, but are clearly indicated.

3D Printing and CAD Design in STEM Education

3D Printing and CAD Design should be part of every STEM curriculum starting in Middle School or earlier. This post will provide some resources, recommendations, and references to help get you started.

The research is clear about the benefits of teaching 3D CAD software and 3D Printing for spatial learning, analytical thinking, mathematical skills, and creativity.

Dilling et al. (2021) present a convincing case study of middle school students and the correlation between “spatial ability and mathematical performance”

Levin et al. (2020) offer a study that “explores the integration of learning activities in digital design and 3D printing as a strategy to foster analytical thinking and applied mathematical skills among middle school students and prospective teachers”

In Wang et al. (2021) “The results show that the 3D printing teaching based on CDIO significantly enhances the spatial ability of junior middle school students”

Selecting the right 3D CAD/CAM software is a crucial part of an effective curriculum. Fusion 360 by Autodesk is a cloud based, cross-platform, complete design and development solution for teachers and students. The best feature is that Fusion 360 is free for students and educators. This powerful design tool is the ideal program to create 3D models that can also be sent right to your 3D Printer or slicing program.

Historically, most 3D CAD/CAM programs had a very steep learning curve, often to the point of being discouraging.  The user friendly interface and easier learning curve of Fusion 360 is well suited to teaching in High School, Middle School, and earlier. I actually had a gifted kindergarten student learn to make simple designs in Fusion 360. For younger students, Tinkercad is a good introduction to 3D CAD, and can also be used for 3D Printing. By the end of Middle School, I recommend students move up to Fusion 360. For architectural projects, Sketchup is an excellent option and free for schools using G-Suite for Education or Microsoft Education.

3D Printing and CAD in Education

Autodesk provides extensive training options on their website to help students and teachers become proficient in Fusion 360 quickly. Additionally, their YouTube Channel has many videos to help you master the interface. There are certification options available for Students and Teachers. Autodesk is clearly committed to the educational market. In addition to being free for educational use, Fusion 360 has an extensive community of educators, providing excellent collaboration opportunities. The interface allows students and teachers to share files and collaborate for easy project management and assessment.

Here is an introductory lesson for Fusion 360 that I like to use to introduce students and teachers to the interface. It is easy to learn and integrates geometry and simple machines. The finished design is a functional nut and bolt that can also be used as a fidget toy. Details of the lesson and the finished files can be found at https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:5323231.

One of my favorite 3D CAD Design and Printing STEM activities is the Moat Boat Paddle Battle. This is a fun event that motivates students to become more proficient in using 3D CAD software:

Selecting the right 3D Printer is also crucial to the success of integrating 3D CAD Design and Printing into your curriculum. While there are 3D printers that cost $300 or less, I would avoid these for a school setting. Investing in good equipment with good service and support will be critical to the success of the integration. I highly recommend and have used MakerBot 3D Printers extensively. MakerBot is committed to Education and offers excellent resources and support for Educators. The wireless capability, on board camera, and excellent service make it an ideal choice for the classroom. There are many 3D Printers available, just be realistic about value and service.

3D Printing Trivia:

Did you know…

The International Space Station has had a 3D Printer on board since 2014?

The Nimitz Class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) has four 3D Printers on board?

Scientists are currently experimenting with 3D Bioprinting of brain, renal, and collagen tissues?

Homes are being 3D Printed to help provide affordable housing?

To learn more about the prevalence and importance of 3D Printing technology, here are some 3D Printing industry publications that can be explored in the classroom:





Dilling, F., Vogler, A. (2021). Fostering Spatial Ability Through Computer-Aided Design: a Case Study. Digit Exp Math Educ 7, 323–336 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40751-021-00084-w

L. Levin and I. M. Verner, (2020). “Fostering students’ analytical thinking and applied mathematical skills through 3D design and printing,” 2020 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2020, pp. 145-149, doi: 10.1109/EDUCON45650.2020.9125358.

L. Wang, J. Luo, L. An, X. Zhou, C. Yin and H. Ma, (2021) “Promoting Junior School Students’ Spatial Ability through 3D Printing,” 2021 Tenth International Conference of Educational Innovation through Technology (EITT), 2021, pp. 100-105, doi: 10.1109/EITT53287.2021.00028.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)

Schmidt et al. (2009) present a very detailed study which resulted in the creation of a statistical model to quantify Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge in future teachers. According to tpack.org “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) is a framework that identifies the knowledge teachers need to teach effectively with technology”. Below is a graphic representation of the TPACK components.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by www.tpack.org

This is an extremely relevant construct for the K-12 classroom in that it can help prepare future teachers in the effective implementation of educational technology. Having a reference point for preservice teachers can help guide professional development to better prepare them for the “21st Century Classroom”.

Having a tool to quantify and help develop TPACK is extremely valuable for educational technology. Lack of professional development is often cited in the literature as a reason for inconsistent implementation of educational technology.

Whether TPACK level improvement can resolve all the barriers remains to be seen. Tsai and Chai (2012) offer a positive view:“We would like to highlight that the key essence of TPACK lies in the dynamic creation of knowledge and practice by teachers when they are confronted with the advancement of ICT and its associated pedagogical affordances. We term this capacity as “design thinking”. It moves beyond the TPACK knowledge perspective, which tends to be associated with codified/justified true beliefs, into the design mode of knowing. Design thinking seeks to change and improve current situations and create what is desired. It may therefore tackle both first and second order barriers as it treats all barriers as problems that need to be tackled and resolved through human creative thinking”.

While professional development is a critical factor in the efficacy of any technology implementation, it is not the only issue educational technology faces. Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) identify an important dynamic that is also a barrier to the implementation of educational technology: “For many teachers, possessing the relevant knowledge, confidence, and beliefs is enough to empower them to integrate technology into their classrooms in meaningful ways. We probably all know teachers who have managed to be successful users, despite facing multiple barriers, including the lack of support (Ertmer, Gopalakrisnan, & Ross, 2001). Yet, for the vast majority of teachers, this is still not enough, as research indicates that innovative teachers are easily overpowered by pressures to conform (Roehrig et al., 2007). “Teachers are not ‘free agents’ and their use of ICT for teaching and learning depends on the interlocking cultural, social, and organizational contexts in which they live and work” (Somekh, 2008, p.450). And, unfortunately, for most, the culture to which they must conform has not adopted a definition of effective teaching that includes the notion of technology as an important tool for facilitating student learning”.

Quantifying and addressing TPACK for preservice teachers is a significant step in the future success of teachers’ effectively implementing educational technology. I would suggest that the TPACK framework studies be extended to include not only more advanced students but also current inservice teachers and administrators. Subsequent follow up studies with the same participants would also prove to be extremely valuable.

Until all educators and administrators have a reasonable TPACK level, there will be barriers to effective implementation and use of technology in education.


Denise A. Schmidt, Evrim Baran, Ann D. Thompson, Punya Mishra, Matthew J. Koehler & Tae S. Shin (2009) Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK), Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42:2, 123-149, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2009.10782544

Peggy A. Ertmer & Anne T. Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) Teacher Technology Change, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42:3, 255-284, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2010.10782551

Ertmer, P. A., Gopalakrishnan, S., & Ross, E. M. (2001). Technology-using teachers: Comparing perceptions of exemplary technology use to best practice. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 33(5).

Roehrig, G. H., Kruse, R. A., & Kern, A. (2007). Teacher and school characteristics and their influence on curriculum implementation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44, 883-907.

Somekh, B. (2008). Factors affecting teachers’ pedagogical adoption of ICT. In J. Voogt & G. Knezek (Eds.), International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education (pp. 449-460). New York: Springer.

Tsai, C. C. & Chai, C. S. (2012). The “third”-order barrier for technology-integration instruction: Implications for teacher education. In C. P. Lim & C. S. Chai (Eds), Building the ICT capacity of the next generation of teachers in Asia. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(Special issue, 6), 1057-1060. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet28/tsai-cc.html

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